Sunday, July 26, 2009
Thomas Harriot Views Moon Through Telescope
Thomas Harriot (1560-1621) was the significant catalyst of science in the English Renaissance. Harriot was a hands-on scientist where Bacon was mostly lofting thought balloons of theory and ideology.
It is Harriot, not Galileo, who gets the credit (proven by documents) as the first person to look at a celestial object through a telescope. Harriot studied our Moon a few months before the more famous Italian did. Harriot first aimed his Dutch-made telescope at the Moon on July 26th, 1609, and sketched his findings. The July 26 sketch is pictured below.
Thomas Harriot’s historic lunar sketch, dated July 26, 1609, shows the terminator line marking the boundary between day and night on the moon that day. The dark areas show Mare Crisium, Mare Tranquilitatis, and Mare Foecunditatis.
Harriot received his BA at Oxford in 1580, then taught mathematics. He accompanied Raleigh on the first Virginia expedition and was a resident of the famous Roanoke Colony. While Harriot’s associates often got in trouble and ended up in the Tower --- or dead (Raleigh, Earl of Northumberland, Marlowe), Harriot managed to stay out of trouble. Perhaps because Harriot remained both low-key and well-off, his story has been eclipsed by the more dramatic tales of persecuted Galileo and martyred Bruno.
Thomas Harriot's map of the whole Moon circa 1610.